4 Tips on How to Prevent Pencil Smudging

Genius? Not Really. Just Practical.

Myra Naito
3 min readNov 6, 2019

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The topic of how to prevent pencil smudging is one that every artist who has ever drawn with pencil has had to face. Pencil (graphite) is such a wonderful medium. Easy to use, relatively inexpensive, and forgiving. Make a mistake? No sweat. Just erase it and try again! However, as wonderful as pencil can be, it isn’t permanent. Yes, it can be erased, which you would do intentionally. But it can also be smeared and smudged inadvertently, which dims an otherwise sharp and crisp drawing. There’s nothing more frustrating than having to go back and clean up smudge marks and sharpen up dulled lines.

So how does an artist avoid the smudging headache?

For this I fall back on the basics. Tons of artists use pencil. Smudging is a common casualty of the medium. Even sketches in a closed sketchbook will smudge while being jostled around in a backpack. With a little thought and care, you can avoid this almost altogether.

The direction in which you work can make a huge difference in how much you smudge your work. (Photo Credit: Myra Naito, mnaitodesigns.com)

1.Let your dominant hand lead. Simply put, if you are right-handed, start your drawing at the upper left corner and move your way down to the lower right corner. This ensures that at no time will your hand be rubbing across areas that you’ve already drawn out. If you’re left-handed, then do the opposite. Start at the upper right corner and draw your way down to the lower left corner.

Another sheet of paper under your drawing hand prevents smudging and protects your project from oils from your skin which may damage the artwork. (Photo Credit: Myra Naito, mnaitodesigns.com)

2.Place a sheet of clean paper under your drawing hand. I prefer to use tracing paper because it allows me to see through to light sketch underneath. This tip should be used all the time if you’re working on commissions or something important like a portfolio piece. The sheet of paper between your hand and your drawing not only prevents smudging, it also protects your drawing from the oils in your skin, which can cause the artwork to age prematurely or paper to yellow over time.

Mahl sticks or similar devices can keep your drawing hand off of the paper or canvas. (Photo Credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maulstick)

3.Use a mahl stick. A mahl stick is a tool artists (mostly painters) have used for centuries. It’s basically a slender stick that the artist can rest his drawing (or painting) hand on instead of the paper (or canvas). I know several artists who use one, but I never got the hang of it. It’s always felt a bit awkward for me.

I’ve used Krylon Fixative for over 20 years and never had a problem. No smudging and no more erasing. It’s only “workable” in the sense that you can still draw over it. Available on Amazon.

4.Use a spray fixative. When your drawing is done, a spray fixative prevents pencil from smudging. You also can’t erase anymore, which is why I say to use it when you’re done. If you use pencil in a sketchbook, you can lightly spray each page when you’re done, but it will leave your sketchbook with the chemical smell of the spray if you don’t leave it open to air out a bit first.

There you have it. Four tips on how to prevent pencil smudging. Very basic stuff. Essentially, don’t touch the areas you’ve already drawn on. And if it’s completed work that you’re particularly proud of, spray it with a fixative.

Do you have another method for preventing pencil smudges? Let us know in the comments. And if you like what you’re reading, please subscribe and share and all that lovely stuff. I appreciate you!



Myra Naito

Freelance copywriter who is passionate about art and fitness. Check out my art blog at mnatiodesigns.com/blog/ or follow me @mnaito_fineart .